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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Wishes Are Horses

Ace and 3/4 of my nephews, who will be reunited this Thanksgiving.

Accidental Sagacity Corporation was organized so that I might share the lessons in living that I learn from my horses. It is an honor to work as closely as I do with them. It is a gift.

Some of the gifts are particularly memorable. Once, Ace and Kitten decided to frolic in a first snow instead of going to their stalls of an afternoon. They pranced up and down the newly plowed driveway and picked up speed to jump the pile of snow at the end of it. Ace floated over it and Kitten plowed right through it, depicting their individual personalities. I wanted to be mad at them, but I was helpless at their beauty.

The stable manager came outside and walked up to me. "You need a hand, Michelle?" she asked.

I shrugged, "No. I'll just wait until they are finished."

"I saw them out of the window," she said. "I had to come out." She stood next to me watching the two horses run about like banshees. We were repeatedly treated to the twisting bucking high heel kicking at the sky maneuver. The dark, fuzzy horses silhouetted pirouettes against the white snow.

The stable manager's husband arrived home about that time. Driving carefully up the driveway, horses running full bore the other direction, spinning and racing him back, he rolled down the window as he approached us, "Are you gonna [looking out the windshield] catch [looking in the side mirrors] those horses [looking in the rear view mirror]?"

"Yeah," his wife said.

"Eventually," I promised.

On another go at the snow pile, Ace hit some ice and fell on his side. He slid to a stop at the bottom of the pile. I gasped. It is terrifying to watch 1000lbs of something you love fall. He gingerly got up, shook himself off and walked, head hanging to me and buried his head in my arms. It was a pouting, childlike I-fell-down-it-hurt. "Aw...poor boy," I said in my best soothing sorry voice as I held his head and stroked the snow off his neck.

Kitten , sensing a problem when Ace didn't materialize on the other side of the snow pile, popped her little ears and big eyes over the top to investigate. When she saw Ace, crestfallen, in my arms, she hopped over the pile like a rabbit and came quite contrite to follow Ace and I into the barn.

Once nestled in their stalls, munching sweet feed and hay, they both gave big contented sighs, the sound of which never fails to make me smile. I looked in on Ace. He looked up with a mouthful of hay, grain still stuck to his muzzle, raised his eyelids, which he always does to highlight something important, "Thank you, human."

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Sometimes I think my only real purpose in life is to witness the virtuosity of the horses' frolicking. If that is all I accomplish in my life, so be it. I promise to do it well and do it often. And I promise to share it. And for that I am eternally thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving and Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Arlington Court Carriages

A rainy, cool London reminiscent day is great for checking out the Arlington Court Carriage Collection presented by the National Trust. I have always been a dyed in the wool fan of the National Trust. Their efforts to preserve and document history is unparalleled and their style in doing so is exquisite.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recommended Equine Reading

I got a call recently asking about recommended reading as an introduction to my horse philosophies. I listed Monte Roberts The Man Who Listens To Horses, Sally Swift's Centered Riding and Linda Kohanov's Tao of Equus. All three books changed the way I work with horses and in turn, my life.

The following is a review I wrote about the Kohanov Book.

“The Tao of Equus” by Linda Kohanov

It has never occurred to me to suggest a horse book to my ultra-literary Book Club. That is until I read Linda Kohanov’s extraordinary compilation of allegories connecting mythology, principles of electricity, physiology, jazz, religion and kineseology with horses in her compelling book, The Tao of Equus.

Kohanov weaves a tale of personal growth through explorations of the human-horse bond. She artfully connects symbolic imagery with current theories on the workings of the body and the mind and explores the most adventurous “scientific and philosophical interpretations of reality”. The result is a work that not only satisfies a dizzying variety of palates but also a reader’s thirst for knowledge on our mysterious attraction to the horse.

Kohanov makes a dissertation on the difference between sex and connection that explores the attraction, in particular, of women to horses. The premise of which expands so collectively upon marketing and social dictates, and so beguilingly on voodoo trance cults in such a small chapter, it makes “Of Women and Horses” by GaWaNi Pony Boy look like collection of high school essays. Kohanov constantly challenges the reader to accept new theories through no-nonsense parable and representation that prove to be fundamentally liberating.

Tenets of shamans, Taoists and philosophers intermingle confidently with theories of physicists, psychologists and anthropologists. Even her ‘visions and voices’ chapters filled with clairsentience and animal psychic encounters, which initially seemed to contradict her basic premise of analytical scientific reasoning early in the book, took on significance through case studies expanded upon in subsequent chapters. Analyzing the metaphors produced by these ‘otherworldly experiences’, Kohanov juxtaposes her work in equine assisted therapy and experiential learning to highlight non-verbal communication and socio-sensual forms of awareness.

“Artistic expression exercises different pathways inside the brain, allowing speech to function outside the narrow bandwidths of logic, helping people to document feelings and awareness states that can’t be accessed through reason.” For any horse lover/owner who has ever been accused of being crazy, or having an overactive imagination about what his or her horse was ‘saying’, such statements are altogether edifying.

As Kohanov stacks up evidence, overwhelming at times, but always dynamic, she draws the reader back to the interdependence of spirituality, science, art and health on the human psyche. And to delighted tears in this reader’s eyes, how fully that is mirrored by the interdependence of humans and horses. “We have become a culture of obsessive overachievers, leading to a host of stress related illness and greed related acts of violence.” Kohanov’s voice in The Tao of Equus is never more effectual than when she is railing against the sedentary, reductionist, power hungry society disconnected from nature and the creative life force behind it. Her voice is never more eloquent than when she supplies the anecdote: the symbolic relationship with nature that we have learned from horses, as a more effective way of living.

The horse helps us to reconnect to nature, our ancestry, our emotions and provides conveyance for those who are ready to identify a greater consciousness and understanding of the role of ‘Self’ in our environment. To those, Kohanov’s voice is a call to action and The Tao of Equus is inspiration for releasing potential and ultimately freedom. The Tao of Equus is not just a good horse book; it is a covenant for modern society. If you are a woman who loves horses, it is a must.

Happy reading and kind regards,

Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Michigan Carriage Driving Tour

If you ever find yourself in Michigan and want to meet some of the most wonderful carriage driving folk, look up Martha Stover. Martha was host to Michael Scott and myself for a weekend of superlative carriage driving stuff. Martha and Cynthia Lawrence of Here Be Dragons breed some of the finest Welsh ponies this side of Wales: spring coils concealed in their hooves, invisible harnesses suspending them weightless from the heavens, with artists' favorite muse chiseled beauty. Yep, these are some fine ponies. Of course, they are but a mere reflection of their owners' outstanding temperament, warmth and generosity. [I am not shamelessly campaigning for President of the Stover/Lawrence Fan Club, but should I be asked...]

And there's more. We were welcomed at Tim Wright's Win A Gin stables to see Synod's Wrought Iron Ringlet going over fences after a couple of weeks of training. This exquisite black mare from Here Be Dragons is so perfectly feminine athletic, I got goosebumps watching her. If anyone knows a child who is intent on conquering the show jumping world, this pony will do it for him or her. You can see more of her and all the exquisite Here Be Dragons Welsh ponies at: www.herebeponies.com

After watching Ringlet, we ventured next door to see the Wasserman carriage collection and fit one of Here Be's superstar carriage ponies to a gig that was for sale. It was a treat to see the carriage house, resplendent with old photos of the carriages in action set in the impeccably beautiful grounds. We each had a go driving Tyngwndwn Lovespoon [have Martha pronounce that for you, it is like a love song] which was sublime. Truly, there is nothing like driving a supreme mover put to a gig in a lovely outdoor arena on a crisp, albeit warn autumn afternoon. Ahhhh...

Oh, but there's more. We supped at the White Horse Inn at Metamora, which completely
transported us straight back to Olde England with rough hewn wood everything and charm
oozing out every rafter. Could it get any better? Oh, I say. Yes. The company was beyond compare. I was seated with Cynthia and her lovely husband, Mack, Barb Chapman and her engaging former Iowan husband, Frank Andrews, our gracious host, Ms. Stover and after dinner Micheal Scott and the excellent raconteur, Tim Wright. The meal/conversation/good cheer was an instant favorite memory.

And then I woke up from my dream? Not a bit of it. There's more. The following day, Martha, Michael and myself were invited to Barb and Frank's Windrush Farm for a tour of the facility and the advanced level CDE course and hazards. I don't think in my wildest dreams could I conceive of a farm more perfect than Barb & Frank's. Everything was exactly as it should be: gorgeous but not lacking in humility, grandiose but not intimidating, stately but welcoming. As Lucy put it, "Can we stay? Please? Please? Please can we stay? This is the very best place we've ever been! Ever!"

Barb gave us a tour of the course via her pair of Dutch Warmbloods, with a variety of hounds, Lucy included, gleefully romping in pursuit. She regaled us with a story of a floating bridge over Michigan quicksand on the property which is sure to become a legend. It was a thrill to see the home of the Metamora CDE and Pleasure Show in this way and I thank Barb for her generosity in accommodating us. For more information on these shows: www.metamoracarriagedriving.org

And to cap it all off, Michael Scott has loaned me a marathon vehicle and today gave me a vertical learning curve option for readying myself and the horses for 2010 combined driving events.

Well, I did promise to return to Michigan soon. And I can hardly wait.

A big thank you to everyone who made the Michigan trip a true to life illustration of the reason I love carriage driving so much. Bless you for your kindness, hospitality and devotion to our shared beloved sport.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Which Carriage?

Indian summer, what a gift! The weather has been sublime here in Iowa these last few days. Perfect weather for working horses makes my job envious. Soon we will be relegated to long lining in the indoor arena for months. But for now, we revel in the soft sunshine. Today it is off to Jester Park for a practical application of skills on the trails. Oh, joy.

I have been advising a new driver on the purchase of a show carriage. Two wheeled, four wheeled, modified road cart, wicker phaeton, buy modestly or make an investment, hybrid or antique? So many questions need to be addressed. I was lucky when I was in her position, I had Harold Ault to advise me. I hope I can be as much use for her as Harold has been for me.

The sport of carriage driving is evolving so quickly that making that decision is even more difficult now than it was 10 years ago. Combined Driving Events are eclipsing Pleasure Shows and vehicles have to do double duty. The number of classically styled original vehicles is dwindling and hybrids are prolific. Horses are required to canter in dressage tests and let me tell you that is not comfy in my gig.

It is an exciting time, history is being made in front of our eyes.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Friday, November 6, 2009

CP Kimball & Company

Fridays are carriage days, so here is one from the archives [author unknown], with an interesting historical note on the Portland sleigh.

"Charles Porter Kimball was born in 1825. At the age of eighteen, by agreement with his father, he moved to Bridgton to work under his brother and to get further schooling. Four years later, in 1847, Dr. Theodore Ingalls lent him 1,000 dollars to open his own carriage workshop in Norway, Maine, about ten miles from Bridgton. At first he employed only two or three workers and had the ironwork made elsewhere. The business grew and more hands were taken on. In 1850 Charles Kimball purchased a water privilege and built a new shop, 100 feet by 32 feet, three stories high. In 1852 he established a repository for the sale of carriages in Portland, and in 1854, he moved his works to that city, at the corner of Preble and Congress Streets. The Portland business prospered, the factory was enlarged and Charles was recognized as an important figure in the carriage industry. So much so that when the Carriages Builders' National Association was formed in 1872, he was invited by his colleagues, Clem Studebaker, John W. Britton of Brewster & Co., John Green and James Goold, to be the first president. He continued in that office until 1876 when he declined re-election.

Then at the height of its prosperity, the Portland factory employed between twenty and thirty hands in regular employment with about five girls employed in trimming. Wheeled vehicles of many kinds were turned out, but the Kimball factory became most famous for its sleighs of a distinctive design, known then as the Kimball Sleigh, and more commonly, called the Portland Cutter.

C. P. Kimball accumulated a large fortune and became a pillar of the community, widely recognized for his business acumen and strength of character. He was president of the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association, surveyor of the port of Falmouth and Portland, and a city alderman. The Maine Democrats nominated him for State Governor, and, although defeated, he was nominated again in 1875, receiving on that occasion the largest vote of any Democratic Gubernatorial candidate up to that time.

In 1876 he moved to New York to be associated with Brewster & Co. in the production of fine Portland Sleighs, named the Kimball-Brewster Sleigh and shown at the Centennial exhibition. He resided in New York City for only a few months, and he was invited by Governor Tilden of New York to be the State Centennial Commissioner for the Exhibition then being Planned for Philadelphia.

In January, 1877, Charles P. Kimball and his son, Charles Frederick, started business in Chicago as C. P. Kimball & Co., a firm which became one of the leading builders of fine carriages in North America; some critics have judged their work superior to Brewsters'."

I concur.

Indian summer this weekend, hope you enjoy...

Kind regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

If Horses Don't Work For You

Carriage Driving Goats

This is a very fancy turnout.

As a stunt to promote the therapeutic riding and driving program I founded, we hitched my parents' goats, Johnny and Pepper to a wheelchair for a parade. Somewhere, I have a photo to prove this.

See, I've always found a way to drive pairs...

A Perfect Carriage Driving Day

Today is going to be a glorious day to drive. Today is a gift from the Weather Gods. Today is a day I can work my carriage horses in resplendent sunshine, with a light breeze and no flies. Today is a day you can envy me the length and breadth of your cubicle. Today I can be smug. If you are still reading this blog in January, it will be your turn to be smug, OK?

I love driving my carriage horses so much, but I've got to say, driving two of them at the same time is twice the pleasure. I am in love with pair driving. Can't say the boys feel the same. They don't seem to appreciate the John Deere-esque painted forecart and the cut down draft harness. Can't say I blame them. I am very excited to get to use a marathon cart with a splinter bar. I'm sure Don Pecos and Ace will appreciate it, too.

Driving pairs is exciting because it offers new training and driving techniques to master and body awareness theories to develop. This is what keeps my work fresh and I embrace it. There is always a different angle or manner of interpretation. Discovering these by accident or sagacity is like solving the Sunday Times Crossword. Thrilling!

Watch this space. Sorry this is a rather lame blog, but as Billy Bob Thorton said in Bad Santa, "They can't all be winners, kid."

Today is a winner, though. I hope you can get out and enjoy it.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Major General, A Sire For All Reasons

Friends and fans of Major always go dreamy eyed and then laugh at the mention of his name. He is a rock star with a streak of comic genius. The Black Beauty of all little girls' dreams, he is a magical, mystical figure. He is an equine vaudeville player with physical and cerebral humor. He is about as perfect a horse as you could imagine.

If you ask someone how tall Major is, they will tell you he is 15.2 hands or so. Even if they are standing right next to him. He thinks big. He convinces you to think big. In fact, he is just under 14.3 hands. But no one believes me. They believe Major. It is part of his magic.

Major believes that domestication is his birthright. We are here to serve him. We are here to witness the virtuosity of his frolicking. We are here to love and adore him. In return, he puts on quite a show: always entertaining, awesome and enlightening. And he loves us back. A lot.

Try remembering you are late for an appointment when you spot Major gallivanting around the pasture. Nope. You stop in your tracks and watch until the show is over. Then you applaud. Major will then come bolting up to the fence, perform a sliding stop and give his curtain call. Being late never mattered so little.

Of course, he was bred to be remarkable. A son of Black River Major, grandson of the legendary Fleetwing, how could he not be a star? Throw in some Trophy and you have the sweetness gene, as well. His only hindrance in the show ring has been me, but he always forgives me. At a carriage show, judge Morris Kerr told me, "This horse is outstanding." I replied, "Thank you, sir. I do my best to be worthy of him."

As a sire, Major continues to inspire. His foals have his charisma, grace, talent and his 'fancy pants dance'. They run to the gate to greet you, try to put their heads in the halter and jig joyfully next to you whatever you desire from them. Whether line bred or out-crossed, Major babies have that same indomitable vitality with specially springed hocks and cannon bones.

Again, the only obstacle to populating the world with more of these delightful creatures has been me. I don't know whether it is selfishness at wanting to keep the treasure to myself or just simply incompetence at promotion, but I accept responsibility for failing Major in this task. I will try to do better.

So, if you or someone you know has a mare and wants another one, just like her, only better, send them my way and I will put Major to work creating more legends. But, a disclaimer: possible side affects of a Major offspring may cause tearing during laughter, weakening of the knees, heart flutters, and work related tardiness. Friends and fans of Major all agree: it's worth it.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winter Training for the Carriage Horse

It was a gorgeous autumn day yesterday at the stables, so I began the winter training schedule outside in the sunshine. The horses and I will be spending enough time in the indoor arena in the months to come. I had read an article on Chester Weber [see yesterday's post] and he described his seasonal schedules. I had never thought about it that way, the weather always determined what I could or could not do.

So, I put together a curriculum for the carriage driving show horses, concentrating on impulsion and collection for greater elasticity of movement. I spend a lot of time long lining in the winter, because it helps me to see how the horses are moving and where I need to focus energy for improvement. Weber described a combination of ground work, driving and riding for his carriage horses. So, I decided to add more riding- good for the horses, good for me.

Speaking of me, I am going to write it here so it must be done, I need to begin incorporating yoga exercises to this curriculum. I noticed my mobility yesterday was limited and yoga is the anecdote. I feel so much better when I have a regular yoga practice, at this point in my life it is becoming necessary for daily function. Taking up daily yoga practice is not difficult, but part of me wants to resist it as necessary, I suppose to resist the inevitable aging truth. My mind may still be young, but my joints and muscles are showing the mileage.

As the horses get older, it takes more work to keep them in shape, the same standard holds for me. If I want the horses to be brilliant on the lines for me, it is my responsibility to be brilliant on the box seat for them. Bring it on Winter.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

PS. It dawned on me yesterday that Lucy is now 2 years old. Seems like only yesterday she was a puppy...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chester Weber Ranked Number One On Four-In-Hand World Equestrian Games Selectors’ List Ocala, FL (October 20, 2009)

Chester Weber’s record-setting victory as the new Seven-Time United States National Four-In-Hand Combined Driving Champion may still be fresh in everyone’s mind, but that isn’t keeping Weber from turning his attention toward his next goal -- the 2010 World Equestrian Games. A veteran of two prestigious World Equestrian Games, Weber’s goal is to drive his team at the 2010 WEG at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

Weber isn’t the only one who has high hopes for Team Weber – the USEF Selectors Committee has ranked Chester as Number One on the WEG Four-In-Hand list. “I feel honored to be at the top of the ranking list today going into a winter break for the horses. I interpret the pole position as us being on the right track with regards to the selectors opinion,” Weber said.

Despite his ranking, Weber isn’t resting on his laurels and already has training plans set in motion. “This winter we will continue to work on the basic fundamentals of all of our weaknesses in an effort to become stronger for the New Year and the upcoming 2010 WEG season,” Weber said. “Our goals are to try to win two medals at WEG and in order to realize those goals we will have to continue to step our game up. We have added two new horses in the stable, two new staff members and several sponsoring partners that all show encouraging potential to make us stronger as a team than we have ever been.”

Ed Young, the Chef d’Equipe of the United States Driving Team, is quick to praise Weber for focusing on his weaknesses, working hard on improving them as well as looking toward the future. “Chester’s ability to set goals and focus on those goals, without being distracted, is an incredible asset to a high performance athlete,” Young said, adding that he expects the United States Four-In-Hand drivers to be on top at WEG and that he believes Weber will play an important part in the goal.

While Team Weber represented the U.S. at WEG in 2002 in Spain and in 2006 in Germany, Weber said he looks forward to the feeling of representing his country at home
in the United States. “Competing at WEG would be a very special event for me should we be selected due the hometown feeling. I enjoy competing abroad, however I am sure that there is something patriotic and special about competing for the U.S. team on our own soil,” Weber said.
WEG 2010 will take place September 25 – October 10 in Kentucky and will mark an historic event as it will be the first time WEG has been held in the United States. For more information on WEG visit their website at www.alltechfeigames.com.